Written by: Tim Edison

Updated: January 5, 2024

Complete Guide to Nero d’Avola Wine | Wine 101

Nero d’Avola, also known as Calabrese, comes from the southern Italian island of Sicily.

Rightfully dubbed Sicily’s “king of red wines,” it’s a wine known for its deep, bold fruit flavor, rich structure, and age-worthiness. 

From soft and approachable to intense and intensely flavorful, Nero d’Avola is a deliciously versatile wine for any occasion. 

This guide to Nero d’Avola will cover everything you need to know, from its best growing regions to its serving suggestions and food pairings. And, of course, plenty of awesome recommendations.


Characteristics of Nero d’Avola

Nero d’Avola is a medium to full-bodied, dry red wine made almost entirely on the island of Sicily in southern Italy.

Its name translates to “black of Avola,” referring to the grape's black skin and the town of Avola, where the grape was believed to have originated. 

Wines made from the Nero d’Avola grape tend to be bold and full of flavor, with rich notes of blackberry, black cherry, spices, licorice, and chocolate. It can be found as a single varietal or blended with either native Sicilian or more common grapes.

Nero d’Avola is almost always aged in oak, which helps to round out the richness of the wine and mellow its tannins.

Many examples of this wine are fit for aging, allowing the tannins to soften and adding flavors of baking spices, chocolate, and earth over time. 

A Sicilian vineyard near Etna


Nero d’Avola Tasting Notes

Nero d’Avola is medium to full in body, medium to full in acidity, and medium to high in alcohol, usually around 13.5-15%.

It’s often compared to Cabernet Sauvignon, as the two have like-minded structures and flavors of dark fruit, spice, and tobacco. 

As mentioned earlier, Nero d’Avola may be found as a single varietal or as a blend along with native and or common varietals. When blended, these wines tend to be fuller in body with more nuanced layers of dark fruit flavors. 

The best examples of Nero d’Avola come from the southeastern corner of Sicily, where the warm and dry Mediterranean climate makes for plush wines with supple tannins.

That said, cooler regions of Sicily can also make delicious wines known more for their easy drinking and fruity flavors, reminiscent of Pinot Noir

In general, Nero d’Avola can be expected to have flavors and aromas of black cherry, plum, licorice, tobacco, and chili pepper.

Its similarities to bold red varietals such as Cabernet and Syrah make it a creative swap and an excellent food pairing wine. 


How is Nero d’Avola Served?

Nero d’Avola is best served at room temperature, around 60°-65°F in an oversized or Bordeaux glass, so that aroma can develop as the wine aerates. A standard red wine glass will do just fine if you don't have an oversized glass. 

Decanting for at least one hour is ideal for unwinding those tight tannins and revealing a more delicate bouquet and fruity flavor. 


The Nero d’Avola Grape

Nero d’Avola originated in Sicily and has found nearly all of its success within those bounds. It supposedly originated in the town of Avola, located in the province of Syracuse in southern Sicily. 

Upon its discovery, Nero d’Avola was prized for its dark color and was mostly used as a blending grape. It wasn’t until the last several decades that producers recognized the grape’s potential as a single varietal. As a result, today, it is commonly found as a single varietal or the starring role in blends. 

Nero d’Avola is Sicily’s most widely produced red grape, thanks to the region’s consistent heat, dry weather, and fertile soil. It’s a wine prized for its vibrant color, drinkability, juiciness, and versatility.  


Notable Regions for Nero d’Avola

Nero d’Avola is almost entirely grown in Sicily's southern and southeastern parts, known for its dry Mediterranean climate and fertile soil.

Each subregion produces a style of Nero d’Avola that is unique to its growing region. 


Noto, Sicily

Location on the southeastern coast of Sicily, Noto is known for producing some of the highest-quality Nero d’Avola wines.

Wines from this region are prized for being full-bodied and complex, with an excellent balance of tannins and acidity. 

Expect Nero d’Avola from this region to be rich with black cherry, blackberry, tobacco, and chili pepper flavors. 


Siracusa, Sicily

Located in the province where Nero d’Avola was believed to have originated, wines made on Sicily’s eastern coast are known for being full-bodied, deeply flavorful, and dutifully age-worthy.

Expect deeply colored wines with brooding flavors of blackberry, prune, tobacco, and baking spices. 


Vittoria, Sicily

This is Sicily’s most notable growing region for producing fruit-forward and easy-drinking Nero d’Avola.

Wines made on this southern coast tend to be more delicate in flavor, more approachable, and more suitable for early drinking.

Expect flavors of red cherry, red plum, dried herbs, and little to no flavor from oak aging. 


Australia

While still an up-and-coming region for producing Nero d’Avola, Australia’s hot and dry climate shows much promise.

Since Nero d’Avola requires consistent sunlight in order to ripen fully, it’s best grown in Australia’s Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale, and Riverland regions. 

Australia’s Nero d’Avola is most commonly found in the lighter style, akin to Pinot Noir. Expect flavors ranging from red cherry to raspberry and licorice.


Nero d’Avola Food Pairings

Nero d’Avola is a deliciously food-friendly wine, ideally suited for any pairing when you’d otherwise select a Cabernet or Syrah.

It’s a wine best suited for your hearty and flavorful dishes that require an equally delicious wine to compliment them. 

With moderate acidity and high tannins, Nero D’Avola pairs best with rich cuisines such as stews, pasta, aged cheeses, meat roasts, and barbequed meats. 

You’ll want to avoid lightly seasoned dishes and seafood, which the wine's dark fruit and spice flavors will easily overpower. 

If you’re drinking a lighter style of Nero d’Avola, consider pairing it with lighter tomato-based dishes or lean proteins. 

  • Pork chops - While hearty in texture and packed with protein, pork chops tend to pair best with lighter-bodied red wines. Pairing grilled or roasted pork chops with a lighter Nero d’Avola is perfect for accentuating the savory and sweet flavors of the pork.
  • Stuffed ricotta - The combination of creamy and rich ricotta cheese with an acidic tomato sauce requires a wine with complimentary acidity and contrasting berry flavor, such as a traditional Nero d’Avola.
  • Oxtail soup - Fatty beef tails cooked until fall-of-the-bone tender, and a flavorful broth requires a wine that complements the dish without overpowering. 
  • Arancini - Italian rice balls coated in breadcrumbs, then deep fried until golden brown and delicious. Pairing this tasty finger food with Nero d’Avola will offer much-needed acidity and leave the wine tasting fruitier and sweeter in comparison. 
  • Aged cheeses - Fontina, gruyere, aged cheddar, and muenster are all excellent pairings alongside a full-bodied red wine. The saltier the cheese, the sweeter and more fruity the wine will taste when paired. 


Awesome Nero d’Avola Wines to Try

These wines represent delicious Nero d'Avola at three different price points. Trying all three would make for a really fun comparative wine tasting with friends.


Under $15 - Cusumano Nero d'Avola 2020

This wine comes from 100% estate-grown grapes grown over four territories throughout Sicily, making for a well-rounded and balanced wine.

With fresh berry aromas and a vibrant ruby red color, this medium-bodied wine is an excellent example of Nero d’Avola at a very approachable price point.

You can order it online here


Under $25 - Feudo Montoni Lagnusa Nero d'Avola 2019

This entirely organic winery is prized for its traditional and authentic approach to making Sicilian wines, much the same as they have since the mid-1400s.

Today, this pure expression of Nero d’Avola is rich with bold flavors of cinnamon, clove, cherry, and black plum.

Delicate flavors of menthol are laced throughout the palate, making for a refreshing and vibrant wine. 

Order a bottle here.


Under $50 - Morgante Don Antonio Nero d'Avola Riserva 2018

Coming from the hilly region of southern Sicily, approximately 1,200 feet above sea level, the Morgante winery has been showcasing premiere examples of Nero d’Avola for generations.

This wine, in particular, is flushed with flavors of blackberry, licorice, dark chocolate, and oak spice, complimented by velvety tannins and a never-ending finish. 

Grab a bottle here.


Interesting Facts About Nero d’Avola

  • The name “Nero d’Avola” is a recent term given to this native Sicilian grape. Prior to the 20th century, the grape was known by many different names depending on the region where it was grown. It wasn’t until the mid-20th century that the name Nero d’Avola was widely used to refer to the grape.
  • Nero d’Avola is one of the approved grapes used in Sicily’s infamous Marsala wines
  • Recent DNA testing of Nero d’Avola across vineyards has revealed there are likely several clones of Nero d’Avola - and indeed several different varietals altogether - that are all grouped under this one name. 

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About the Author Tim Edison


Tim started Wine Turtle way back in 2015.
These days he contributes to Wine Turtle (and other renowned wine publications) while continuing his wine education.
Tim's wine of the month is the Coates & Seely Reserve Brut NV (from Hampshire, England).



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